Rise of Sustainable Agriculture Amidst Modern Challenges

By Shashank Kumar September 28, 2023

The integration of modern technologies like mechanisation, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, wireless sensors, big data and mobile applications is reshaping Indian agriculture

Rise of Sustainable Agriculture Amidst Modern Challenges
Council on Energy, Environment and Water has outlined a comprehensive list of 16 sustainable agricultural practices some of which are organic farming, integrated farming systems and agroforestry. Shutterstock

In India, the story of agriculture is a tale of remarkable progress and adaptability. We've journeyed from the days of manual plows and time-honored farming techniques to the forefront of precision agriculture, with futuristic tools like drones. This transition serves as a poignant testament to our nation's resilience. With approximately 54.6% of the total workforce engaged in agricultural and allied sector activities, this sector plays a pivotal role, contributing a substantial 17.8% to the country's gross value added (GVA). In the fiscal year 2021-22, India achieved a milestone by recording a total of $50.2 billion in agricultural exports, marking a significant 20% increase from the previous year's figure of $41.3 billion. As per IBEF report (India Brand Equity Foundation), projections indicate that the Indian agricultural sector is poised for further growth, with an expected expansion of 3.5% in the fiscal year 2023. 

A few decades ago, India's agriculture relied on traditional methods, contributing significantly to the GDP. But what drove India to become a global agricultural powerhouse? 

The turning point came with the green revolution, which introduced high-yield crops, synthetic fertilisers, and advanced irrigation. Today, technology stands as the catalyst for a brighter, more sustainable future in Indian agriculture. The concept now encompasses the integration of cutting-edge technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics. These innovations aim to expedite and enhance the efficiency of operations across the entire production chain. It's not just about feeding the nation; it's about nourishing the planet and leaving a legacy for generations to come. 

India's Agricultural Revolution and the Green Dawn 

India's agricultural narrative is one of adaptation and advancement. Ancient customs, grounded in manual labor and crop rotation have sustained our agrarian communities for ages. However, a seismic shift occurred in the 1960s and 1970s with the onset of the green revolution. This pivotal period introduced high-yield crop varieties, synthetic fertilisers, and modern irrigation methods. The result? A surge in agricultural productivity propelled India towards self-sufficiency in food production. 

Undoubtedly, the green revolution transformed Indian agriculture. It led to a substantial increase in crop yields, particularly in wheat and rice, reducing the need for extensive imports and bolstering food security. This revolution nearly doubled global grain production. But, it also sparked concerns about sustainability, as heavy reliance on synthetic chemicals had adverse effects on the environment and health. Continuous monocropping weakened soil health and increased vulnerability to pests and diseases. While these chemicals addressed immediate challenges, they came at the expense of soil erosion, water pollution, and biodiversity loss. 

Rise of Sustainable Agriculture Amidst Modern Challenges 

Today, agriculture stands at the intersection of three paramount challenges in the 21st century: ensuring food and nutrition security, addressing climate change through adaptation and mitigation, and promoting the sustainable utilisation of vital resources like water, energy, and land. 

Recognising the shortcomings of conventional practices, a dynamic movement has emerged. Sustainable agriculture is not just a trend, but a fundamental reimagining of how we cultivate our food. This marks a profound shift in farming practices, placing emphasis on the imperative of maintaining long-term ecological equilibrium, conserving vital resources, and prioritising the well-being of farming communities. Recently, The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has outlined a comprehensive list of 16 sustainable agricultural practices (SAPs). These encompass methodologies such as organic farming, natural farming, integrated farming systems, agroforestry, and more. 

Sustainable agriculture, a holistic and forward-looking approach, has risen in response to these multifaceted challenges, striving to mitigate the negative consequences of the green revolution while simultaneously providing food security and safeguarding the planet. 

Technology's Vital Role in Sustainability 

According to the United Nations projection, India's population will reach 1.5 billion by 2030, which signifies a pressing need to prioritise sustainability, and food and nutrition security. This also compels us to seek modern solutions to combat issues such as climate change, land use conflicts, post-harvest losses, biodiversity loss, deteriorating soil health, and the depletion of groundwater resources. 

Today, agritech firms leverage cutting-edge technologies such as remote sensing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) to empower farmers through the provision of actionable insights. The integration of modern technologies like mechanisation, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, wireless sensors, big data, and mobile applications is reshaping Indian agriculture. From reducing manual labor through mechanised tools like combine harvesters to revolutionising weather predictions with AI-driven insights, these advancements promise to enhance crop resilience, optimise resource utilisation, and improve supply chain management. With wireless sensors providing critical data on soil conditions and moisture levels, and mobile technology enabling remote irrigation control, Indian farmers are poised for a more efficient and prosperous agricultural future. 

Way Forward 

The shift from traditional to technology-driven sustainable farming practices marks a significant stride toward ensuring agriculture's long-term viability while reducing its environmental impact. By embracing innovation, harnessing data, and prioritising ecological balance, farmers and food system stakeholders are paving the way for a more sustainable future. Successful agri-platforms are already streamlining access to a range of critical services for farmers, enhancing efficiency in the agricultural supply chain. 

For decades, India's farms have been the backbone of sustenance, not only for the nation but also for the global community. With the integration of digital technologies, there lies a profound potential to elevate production at every juncture, from top-tier agriculture inputs to the delivery of world-class agriculture outputs. This has the power to foster sustainable growth for Indian farmers, bolster economic prosperity in rural areas, and catalyse a flourishing ecosystem that reverberates positively throughout the entire economy. 

(Shashank Kumar is the Co-Founder & CEO, DeHaat.)